September 28, 2020 at 3:00 p.m.
This was the topic on The Dairy Signal hosted by the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Sept. 15. Ways to avoid a spill, how to report and manage a spill, and what farmers need to know in regards to cleaning up a spill were discussed by Kevin Erb, director of the Conservation Professional Training Program for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension, and Issac Ross, Spills Team leader – Hydrogeologist Program coordinator at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“Accidental manure spills happen,” Erb said. “There are going to be tanker tip overs, hoses that break and pipes that fail. Not cleaning it up or physically restoring the site is where farmers get into trouble. You need to report the spill and document your actions. Leaving manure on the road creates a safety hazard, while leaving it in the ditch causes an environmental hazard.”
Each state has its own reporting and hotline numbers. In Wisconsin, manure spills should be reported to the DNR emergency hotline at 1-800-943-0003. Ross assured farmers the DNR is there to help, not condemn. No matter what day of the week or time of day a spill occurs, the DNR has connections throughout the state and can get people on the ground to assist. However, it is not the DNR’s responsibility to come in and clean up the spill.
“Our role at the DNR is not to get people in trouble, but rather, assist those who have a spill,” Ross said. “We’re here to be a helping hand, providing resources and guidance to a farmer. We want to work with you to make sure the spill is contained and cleaned up safely and ensure there is no impact downstream or to local wells or water bodies.”
Knowing what to do in the event of a manure spill is essential, which is why Erb and Ross recommend every farm have a spill response in place prior to a spill occurring. Farms should do their best to prevent accidents by making sure everything is right when loading for the first time. Confirm there are no leaks and look for missing lug nuts on tires. Erb said nearly half of all spills are transportation related and recommends making sure draglines are laid out properly to avoid movement and scraping on metal culverts.
“Step back and make sure you’re taking time to do things properly,” Erb said. “Don’t rush yourself, and that will prevent a lot of accidental spills.”
When a spill does happen, calling in is the responsibility of the person in control of the manure at the time of the spill (either farmer or manure hauler) and should be done as soon as possible. According to Erb, it is in the farmer’s best interest to report the spill before a neighbor does.
“If a farmer reports a spill, they tend to underestimate the volume slightly,” Erb said. “But if it’s a citizen, the volume gets doubled, tripled or even 10-20 times what it actually is because they don’t have a perspective on what 10 gallons of manure versus 100 gallons actually looks like. Therefore, it’s better if the farmer reports it. You’re the one who knows the equipment and understands the situation.”
Reporting a spill does not automatically mean the DNR will show up on a farmer’s doorstep. Small, contained situations rarely require a visit from the DNR. If a hose breaks in the field and spills 500 gallons of manure but is not near any water resources, filling out some forms might be all that is required. However, if manure ends up in a shallow bedrock area, and there is concern about it entering someone’s well, the DNR may have to investigate. If someone is hauling liquid manure and it spills into a river, the DNR will want to mitigate damages to the environment as fast as possible. Any time there is a manure spill, the impact to human health and the environment must be assessed.
“Five gallons of manure spilled right next to a trout stream is going to be a much different situation than 500 gallons spilled in the middle of a flat cornfield,” Erb said. “As defined in state statutes, spills are less about quantity and more about their potential impact.”
A spill in a field that a farmer can till and spread is not going to be considered a great threat to human health or the environment. Spreading out the spilled manure so the rate matches the nutrient management plant is the goal, and making sure manure’s nutrients are used by the crop is much better than a spill of a smaller amount involving a potential aquatic kill.
Even if a spill seems inconsequential, Ross and Erb said to err on the side of caution and report it. In Wisconsin, a spill of any quantity by a permitted facility or concentrated animal feeding operation must be reported. Whereas the standard for smaller farms is not as tight.
“It’s better to be upfront about it,” Ross said. “It’s a lot easier to have a five- or 10-minute phone call with a regional spill coordinator than it is to have Wardens sampling their way up a river two to three days later and contacting you to find out if a spill occurred. We can delete a spill report after investigating further and determining it doesn’t rise to the level of a reportable spill, but we can’t bring a trout steam back to life in a matter of a couple days.”
Ross said farmers should follow the five Cs when dealing with a manure spill: caution, control, contain, contact and cleanup. Safety is top priority in a manure spill. In the case of a tanker that tips over on the road, making sure the driver gets the medical attention he needs takes precedence over stopping manure from traveling farther down the ditch.
Once safety is addressed, figure out how to control the spill and prevent it from getting any bigger. If a valve was opened accidentally on a truck or tanker, close the valve to prevent any more manure from physically leaving the hose or tanker. An accident on a major two-lane road should be immediately called into emergency services to get traffic control. Next, look at the cleanup process.
Depending on the type of spill, cleanup could be as easy as using a skid loader, building some berms and containing the spill, or it could be as involved as having a contractor on hand to clean. If there is a manure spill in a hay field or road ditch, flushing off 95% of the solids and vacuuming those up may be all that is required. Vegetation will take up those nutrients, and the use of a skid loader and backhoe to move earth would be unnecessary.
“We’re not looking to restore a ditch or field to where a family could sit down and have a picnic lunch,” Erb said. “We’re looking to get as much manure off as possible without creating additional environmental problems.”
“Our goal is to make sure the site is restored to its intended use practices,” Ross said.
Although farmers might fear reporting a spill will incur negative consequences, Ross said that is not the case.
“A farmer who reports spills and works with us is going to be in a much better situation than a farmer who does not do those things,” Ross said. “It’s going to be in your favor to work with us versus avoiding responsibility when these incidents do occur.”
The DNR is not in the business of handing out fines and citations, Ross said.
“Those typically come into play when responsible parties fail to report a spill or do not cooperate with us,” he said. “We assess the damage and put a dollar value on that damage if need be, but we’re not going to come in with guns blazing every time. We know spills happen. The DNR wants to be able to help you as best as possible while making sure the environment is able to be used and shared by everybody.”
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